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Uncovering UX of the FuturePractical Tips On How to Do Research in the Field

The average UX expert is becoming more and more interested in learning about qualitative research methods that reach "beyond the lab." While it may seem hard to believe, some of our most valuable research is being done in diverse locations such as vehicles, the living room, and even the operating room. UX practitioners must understand the practices, beliefs, and emotions of people in their everyday environments in order to successfully design future technologies. Field research helps provide insights into what and how products and services people will most likely incorporate into their lives. Uncovering UX is a journey with unexpected twist and turns. As researchers, we will travel outside of our comfort zones, speak to respondents who say unexpected things, collect large amounts of ambiguous data, synthesize information into meaningful patterns, consider tradeoffs, and finally tell a coherent narrative. This talk will discuss how we managed to navigate through this journey while discovering areas for innovation.

Automobile

The car witnesses several intimate human behaviors such as: eating, fighting with spouses or siblings, singing out loud, talking to ourselves, being entertained, picking our noses, sharing -from trivial to deep- conversations and moments with our loved ones, and even having sex. The car mimics certain areas of the home that blur the boundaries of public and private spaces, much like a living room with large windows on street level or the front yard. In this environment, research techniques from the lab do not carry well but understanding the role of technology (either being brought-in such as tablets and phones to built-in navigation devices) is still crucial.

When our team set out to design future experiences for the car, several research methods were employed to capture particular elements and provide some insights. Unfortunately, these methods failed to give a holistic understanding and presented many challenges. It took several studies before we realized that we should conceptualize the car as a living space and not just a mode of transportation. Only after this shift in perspective could we properly understand the impact of our designs on people’s lives in the car. We realized that evaluating prototypes in the car couldn’t be approached as an app on the phone, a new web site, or a wearable device. That change in thinking about the car gave rise to a whole new way of conducting in-vehicle technology research. This talk will focus on going in-depth about those methods and sharing all the lessons learned that could be applied to many other spaces.

Living Room

The living room is the main backdrop where technology is consumed in the household: television is watched, social networking is curated, random facts are browsed, and video games are played. It is also the place where couples and families spend time near each other while interacting with second screens. Family time in the living room is continually evolving as TVs and other personal electronic devices change. UX researchers must ensure that not only devices and activities get recorded, but relationship dynamics are explored. Human factors are essential when studying these new products. For example, when interacting with home entertainment: who is in charge of the remote, who decides what to watch, and how are disagreements reconciled? These considerations are vital when performing UX research.

In addition, the living room (or any place in the home) shows the inherent distractions from crying babies, awkward positions from crawling behind the TV, frustrations due to lack of correct tools, and delays from bad Wi-Fi connections. These barriers help us understand why people abandon product use and provide insights into areas of improvement or new business opportunities. Nuances from home visits help us understand the challenges that consumers face and can ultimately help us design better experiences.

Operating Room

The operating room is a challenging locale to perform UX research, as it is an often tense and inflexible environment. However, being able to go into an operating room to observe surgeons using a device is a powerful way to inform re-design recommendations. Surgeons are requesting more precise and ergonomic devices, while support staff want devices with a simplified set-up process and intuitive UI. This case study offers two important lessons from medical UX research: a lifecycle approach is key to fully understanding how to improve design and the device user is much more expansive than designers anticipate.

The lifecycle approach is essential in gathering comprehensive research as it examines storage, set-up, use, disassembly, and SPD (clean/sterilization)—not just use. Second, making sure to interview all users who interact with the device will provide crucial feedback from a variety of perspectives. For example interviewing not just surgeons, but also nurses who set up the device and SPD workers who clean the device. Adapting these UX research methods, beyond the operating room, can provide researchers with a more complete picture to inform crucial design changes for other future technologies.

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